David Fodel and Janet Feder on Curating BMoCA's MediaLive 2014

When David Fodel was invited to help launch MediaLive two years ago, one of his goals for the performance-, workshop- and talk-filled symposium at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art was to showcase artists who are exploring new forms of live audiovisual work. This year's three-day festival, which runs from November 14 through November 16 at the museum and CU-Boulder's ATLAS Black Box Theater, was co-curated by local guitarist Janet Feder; it will feature artists from around the globe, including the London-based Light Surgeons, Chicago-based Nick Briz, Moscow-based VTOL and many more. In advance of MediaLive 2014, we caught up with Fodel and Feder to talk about curating the festival, some of the artists performing at it and how its scope has grown over the last two years. See also: 100 Colorado Creatives -- Janet Feder

Westword: What do you have going on this year's MediaLive? David Fodel: I think for us the biggest thing is we're bringing the Light Surgeons -- at least it's a big deal for me. Really, all of the stuff this year is pretty impressive. I'm most excited about the Light Surgeons. They're going to playing on Saturday night at the ATLAS. These guys have been doing I guess what you would call audio-visual theater for probably a decade or more now. They have one of the tightest productions that I have ever seen.

So, for this configuration, two of the guys are coming in from London and then they have a world-class musician that they have been collaborating with on this project coming in from Malaysia. The work was actually commissioned by the British Arts Council and it's basically about the culture, or cultures, of Malaysia. So they come at it from a really interesting perspective and, like I said, it's very theatrical. It incorporates some standard things that you would expect in theater in terms of lighting and tight production, but it's also kind of a DJ/VJ setup with shadow play, live musicians, all sorts of props, and they're mixing and playing the music live, mixing and playing the video live, moving around on stage, multi-layers of screens and scrims. It's really just fantastic. I had a chance to see it at another venue earlier this year. I've been following these guys' work since 2008, and I'm just really thrilled to be able to bring them.

Janet Feder: Wasn't that the Currents Festival where you saw them?

David Fodel: Yeah, I saw them at Currents in Santa Fe.

Janet Feder: Santa Fe has this wonderful festival called Currents. It's the second year that we've had performers that have made it all the way to Santa Fe but not quite here. This is a really big festival performance. This isn't like a little Boulder performance. This is international status performance.

David Fodel: It's our third year and I think this year, really for the first time we're getting...not only is the museum really realizing what they have on their hands but some of the other institutions that we've been really hoping to kind of force these partnerships with. It's the second year we're working with UC Boulder by using the ATLAS Institute and using the Black Box Theater for some of the larger, more involved productions. We hope to keep building that. We've gotten interest in the city of Boulder's arts commissions and the library, which is a big supporter of a lot of the cultural stuff that happens in Boulder. We already have some stuff sort of in the kitty for next year. So it's feeling like we're kind of established and people are making note. I'm really excited about that as well.

Janet Feder: We pull off in three days what larger festivals pull off in a week to three weeks or a festival. We sort of confine it into this three-day festival period. It's brilliant. Like if somebody set aside those three days and came to everything from start to finish. it would be everything amazing, everything of extraordinary quality from start to finish.

It sounds like the festival has grown over the last three years. Would you agree with that?

Janet Feder: It has, absolutely. Our scope has grown. We're able to attract from a broader selection of interested artists and participants, absolutely.

David Fodel: Although on some levels I feel like we've also been really pretty consistent from the beginning in terms of...we had a vision and that first year we did some great stuff. I think all three years we've had some just really solid stuff. I think that's why people are playing attention, because it's really been pretty consistent.

But I'd like to also mention some of the other folks that we have. We have Dmitry [Morozov], who goes by VTOL. He is in the country from Moscow, touring right now. He was in Denver for a brief stay earlier this month and did some work at the university where I teach and meeting with students. He's a really interesting guy, a young artist. Kind of a circuit-bender, hacker kind of guy really enmeshed in the Moscow scene. He'll be doing a performance on Friday night that'll be at the museum. He just recently got written up in Wired magazine. His work is getting a lot of play. He's excited about coming back. He's actually been working on a new performance, trying it out at these different venues in Chicago and New York and he's going to be in San Francisco next. So he's really refining it. So when he gets back he's going to have this fairly tight new performance for us, so that's pretty exciting.

Then we have Nick Briz, who is from Chicago, and the Chicago new media scene is sort of dominated by this dirty new media and glitch kind of aesthetic. And Nick is really tightly involved in that. He teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, which is just historically the hotbed of activity in electronic media and art and usually really edgy stuff. So he's the guy who does a lot of work with open-source software. He really kind of takes a political angle on things in terms of being able to sort of wrest control of networks and of coding from corporate and political interests. So his idea behind teaching that to other people is that we have to know what's going on in the machine -- otherwise we just become part of the machine sort of thing.

He has developed a live performance software environment. He does a thing that's sort of like a performance lecture where he explains what's going on in the software as he's performing it and it's audio/visual, it's a web-based OpenGL package. It's sort of a low-level graphics language that allows you to do amazing things but he's built this on a web platform. He's also going to be giving a workshop on Sunday about how and why we have to glitch the system. That's should be pretty exciting, too. Keep reading for more on MediaLive 2014. Janet Feder: In conjunction with the Boulder Public Library we have an installation there by Bryan Leister who's on the faculty of UCB in the visual arts. We definitely want to drop people up to the library. That partnership is really important for us, too. We really wanted to sort of place ourselves in the Boulder community, in a community kind of way so that MediaLive doesn't just happen in isolated locations but that it's placed more and more into the community.

David Fodel: That focus as we move forward is to kind of expand the festival beyond the walls of the museum.

Janet Feder: And that's the museum's goal, too. The museum has been a wonderful partner and sponsor. Our visions are quite aligned with MediaLive. BMoCA is absolutely essential in this.

David Fodel: Their staff and director David [Dadone] is super supportive. I think they really understand that this is like a real thing. I think initially there was a sense that this was not necessarily a fad. I don't know, there's an association with club culture. You know, like kind of rave culture, club culture, VJ-ing and that kind of thing. There's a thread of that, but what I find interesting -- and this is something that I've actually done some writing on -- there's this kind of rethreading of club culture and art culture, or whatever you want to call that.... You know, the high culture/low culture pop-culture sort of thing is really sort of irrelevant today.

These communities, they thread back into themselves. It's these kind of festivals where you see this kind of remixing and rethreading of those various cultures coming into a clearer focus. So it definitely has these connections from traditional performance art and theater arts and music, but it also has this other component, this sort of DIY circuit-bending, culture-hacking kind of feel to it that has emerged more from the ground up as opposed to from academia down sort of idea.

Can you talk about your initial vision for the festival?

David Fodel: I think our initial vision for the festival was to do exactly what we're doing. To really showcase the spectrum of work that has emerged since the ability, I guess, through kind of the ubiquity of computing power, mobile, extensive technology, kind of enabling to some degree just a preponderance of approaches to working with this stuff. Like I said before, that kind of rethreading of the popular culture or underground with what was happening in the arts schools and academia, that was our vision, to show that this stuff is all coming together in some really interesting ways and you can never really predict what's going to happen. So there was kind of a sense of emergent possibilities that we wanted to put this structure in place that can serve as an outlet for these kinds of things that was very experimental but at the same time it was very polished and tight and professional. People who are really approaching this as an art form, as opposed to just kind of just slapping something together the night before sort of deal.

Janet Feder: Not only that, but we came to this along our friend and co-collaborator Paco Proano. The three of us initially met over work that Paco and David had created that I just fell in love with. It was live performance in a way that I hadn't really ever interfaced with as a live music performer. And at this intersection we found ourselves looking around and seeing there was a clear distinction for us between physical work that was presented by artists who made it and then exhibited it basically by pressing the space bar and then it ran, and what this whole other realm of artists were doing, which was working with the digital realm and the human realm at the same time in live performance. And we started to see this very distinct definition between these two concepts.

When we say MediaLive, we also have to understand what media means. And by the same token a lot of people experience media as a thing that happens, that's created by somebody else and is in place like accessible on screen or in a public place but not very often as a live performance where things can totally go wrong.

David Fodel: I think to go off of what Janet said, even in the title of the thing, there's a certain kind of contradiction that sets up a bit of a tension, which is what we're after -- because you think of "media" is "mediate," there's something in between viewing the thing. It's mediated. There's an intermediary, whereas live is kind of like this thing that's immediate, it's not mediated. So I think really that's the territory that we're looking at -= where is that distinction and how has media changed the definition of what it means for something to be live?

What were looking for when you curated the festival?

David Fodel: That has pretty much been the same throughout all three years of the festival. It really does relate to what we've just been talking about....There's this realm that we call new media, which to me is kind of like we're always sort of chasing our own tail. Is it new, is it novel? In fact, this year we have an artist who is working with 16 millimeter film and HD video in this really interesting, hybrid way. We're looking for people who are primarily using media in this sort of instrumental sense. So when I say instrumental, it's kind of like...not only as a tool to make something else that we then view later on, but as an instrument, something that's unfolding in an emergent way. It puts the media into a realm of happening now as opposed to already happened.

Janet Feder: I also want to say it's David who really takes the lead in scanning the landscape for the artists that we choose because that's his focus, I think, if I can speak for you. David has this very broad gaze across the landscape of what's happening now and who's doing what where. Our eye is also scanning for what we want to see, which I think is what any good curator does. That's why festivals each kind of have their own personalities. The curators are bringing what they value and what they want to see to their community and then presenting it, like, "Wow, check this out." It's like when you're a kid and you took your friends to this cool place that you discovered and you wanted to it show to them.

This is a huge inspiration when we started MediaLive. It's like we could actually bring people here who we wanted to work with, who we also know and meet in our work as we travel around the world and do the things that we do. We can bridge this back here to Boulder with BMoCA's support and the support of other sponsors. We can bring this to here where we are and enrich our community this way.

MediaLive programming will be presented at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, 1750 13th Street in Boulder, on Friday, November 14 and Sunday, November 16; the November 15 programs will take place at the ATLAS Institute on the University of Colorado at Boulder campus. The full schedule is available on the BMoCA's website.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jon Solomon writes about music and nightlife for Westword, where he's been the Clubs Editor since 2006.
Contact: Jon Solomon